Winter Reads

The sun is hiding today.  Taking a rest from all those brilliant days and exquisite sunsets we had through the holidays.  I peeked outside at the mauve hellebores barely visible in the fog before scurrying back inside to pick up a new book someone thought I’d like for Christmas or an old favorite that nobody else quite gets. I’m enjoying browsing through a gift, Preserving the Japanese Way: Traditions of Salting, Fermenting and Pickling for the Modern Kitchen by Nancy Singleton Hachisu while rooting for the displaced heroine and pickle-maker Sunja in Min Jin Lee’s PachinkoI’m also dreaming of warmer places through the sunny SoCal and South of France interiors in designer Kathryn Ireland’s Kathryn at Home and fascinated by the domestic doings Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders. Something I put under the tree for myself.

But today isn’t all about snuggling up and staying in. I’m also packing for some winter adventures.  The first is this weekend to Utah to do some novel research and attend a conference on Mormon Arts.  I’m packing with one eye on the chilly weather there and one on the frigid weather of our just-booked trip to Korea next month to attend the Winter Olympics.  A good friend who has been part of the Olympics going back to the Salt Lake City games in 2002 says the Pyeongchang Olympics will be the coldest Olympics in modern history.

Winter sports enthusiasts says that if you can keep your feet warm, you’ll be fine.  So last week I swung by REI to look at some Serious Snow Boots.  Alas, I have Seriously Long Feet and even the few size 11s they had in stock scrunched my toes.  Assuming I’ll need boots big enough to accomodate thick socks and maybe some of those little packets of feet warmers that skiers use, I went to the Sorel website and discovered that they had a few size 12s still available. Of course, this time of year the pickings are slim, but I was able to order this All-American looking pair with the Italian name. My toes have plenty of wiggle-room which means these boots are getting a trial run in Utah.

They will certainly be far superior to the footwear my characters wore while homesteading in 19th century Utah and Idaho.  Even the fancy folk in Victoria’s court never had it so good. And poor Sunja making pickles and battling the cold in Japan and Korea would never have dreamt of the affordable yet luxurious footwear that for me is just a click away.

What are you reading this winter?  Does a change in season affect what you read?

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Candy Crush

Though we’re likely to get just a handful of trick-or-treaters tonight, it didn’t seem right not to have candy at the door.  So, I swung by the local CVS and wandered the aisles looking for something to serve the brave ghouls and goblins who navigated their way to us. If I had a skeletal metabolism I would have stocked up on Midnight Milky Ways but having a bowlful around the house is just too scary.  I could have chosen something MJ likes, like Smartees, but he’s trying to keep those devilish pounds away as well. I finally settled on a pack of assorted Tootsie Roll products.  They’re not that tempting to me and wouldn’t induce a house egging from an intrepid trick-or-treater (I came all the way here for Dum Dums?) More than that, Tootsie Rolls were my dad’s signature candy. He always carried them in his pocket to hand out to kids at church or grandkids visiting the farm.  If All Hallows Eve followed by All Saints Day and All Souls Day is a season for remembering our dead, I can’t think of a better way to honor my dearly departed dad than with a bowl full of Tootsie Rolls.

Happy Halloween!

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Now That Was a Great Eclipse

When my brother Bruce sent an email to the whole family telling us that this summer there would be a total eclipse of the sun visible from mom’s backyard, I thought “big whoop.”  I mean, I’d seen a few partial lunar eclipses before and they were interesting but not life-changing.  Nevertheless, a major celestial event seemed like as good an excuse as any to head home to Idaho for a few days so I booked tickets and didn’t think much more about it.

Gradually, the light dawned on me and I figured out this was going to be a Really Big Deal.  Several people recommended Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse” so I read it and was intrigued–and a little spooked–by her apocalyptic recollections of seeing a total solar eclipse.  I also read an interview with astronomer Neil DeGrass Tyson  who, when asked about one travel destination that everyone should see, replied “a total solar eclipse, wherever in the world that may take you. . .the ‘destination’ is the event, not the location.” Maybe seeing a total eclipse was a bucket list item after all.

Helen Macdonald’s essay “How to Stay Sane During A Total Solar Eclipse” convinced me that experiencing the event with my extended family was going to be memorable despite the attendant inconveniences of travel, housing, bathrooms, meals, etc.  “When you stand and watch the death of the sun and see it reborn, there can be no them, only us,” she wrote.  What better bonding activity could there be than to experience a total eclipse with my Loosli-related clan?

As it turned out, forty-one members of my family gathered at mom’s place—a farm located eight miles outside of small town Ashton, Idaho. In order to accommodate everyone a small tent city rose up in the back yard. Fortunately, only one of the tents got completely soaked by a large rolling irrigation sprinkler in the adjacent field and had to be moved at 3:00 a.m.

The night before the eclipse we kicked things off with a “Light & Dark” opening ceremony where we sang songs both sacred (“Lead Kindly Light”) and silly (“You Light Up My Life”), did interpretative dance to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and played an eclipse-themed game of charades.  My brother Joel’s contribution was a dramatic reading from Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight volume “Eclipse” while other family members acted out the purple prose.  The program concluded with a scientific explanation by my brother Bruce, a Boeing engineer, about what we would experience the next day.

Everyone was up early the next morning to feast on Joel’s pancakes decorated with pink hearts. (Joel and his wife Barb raised four girls which is why he knows a thing or two about heart pancakes and the Twilight series.) I put on my Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” T-shirt and an eclipse necklace featuring a charcoal labrodite disc surrounded by tiny diamonds. We all pulled out our goofy paper eclipse glasses.

Bruce set up a demonstration area where we could use a colander to see moon-shaped shadows on white board and look through a telescope with special reflective coating on the lenses. We cranked up the eclipse playlist our daughter Sydney had put together  featuring tunes like “The Sound of Silence,” “Moon River,” and “Ring of Fire.” Everyone laid out blankets or set up chairs facing the Grand Tetons in the east.  We knew something was up when the cows in the nearby pasture all stood at attention and stared at Sydney’s husband Dan, a PhD candidate in atmospheric chemistry.  What cosmic knowledge were they trying to convey to him?

As we moved from the demonstration area to the driveway to watch crescent shadows filter past the leaves or arc through our interlocking fingers, we’d occasionally put on our eclipse glasses to check out the progress of the moon across the sun. The temperature grew distinctly cooler, enough so that MJ slipped on a sweatshirt. Mosquitoes swarmed at midday. The air grew matte and wavy. I wanted to clean my glasses. Or switch on the sky.

Then at 11:33 a.m., just as predicted, the last tangerine sliver of sun disappeared and the lights went out. Though not completely.  A band of orange at the horizon created a 360 degree sunset that silhouetted the Tetons. The big black hole where the sun had been was surrounded by a feathery white light and the sky beyond that was a pleasing purple—less Twilight magenta and more Crayola blue-violet.

We all cheered. Dan, normally so reserved, threw his arms in the air and spun around yelling at the ebony moon.  I, too, raised my hands to the indigo sky and cried “Wow!”  I wish I’d been more articulate, but “wow” pretty much summed up how it felt to be inside your own sci-fi movie.

Both Dillard and MacDonald wrote that their eclipse experience was terrifying.  Dillard said that “seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. . .it obliterated meaning itself.”  MacDonald, too, referenced atomic tests and said her reaction was “shock . . . and a sense of creeping dread.”

As for me, when the heavens dimmed I was elated, awestruck, transported to another place. It seemed like the travails of this world were behind me and a new frontier lay ahead.  I’ve continued to tell people, only half-joking, that I saw the face of God.

Afterwards someone noted that none of us had been taken up in the rapture. (So what did that say about our clan?)  Everyone grinned at the sight of each other.  MJ kissed me and said, “We made it.”

A couple of family members left almost immediately to sit in the terrible traffic that everyone had anticipated for months but which didn’t materialize until the sun began to fill out again. Joel and his family were some of the unlucky travelers. “Worth it,” he texted at midnight after it took twelve hours to make his normal four hour journey back to Salt Lake. “Totally worth it.”

We toasted the eclipse with Tang. Later we’d share an orb-themed dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, frozen peas, melon balls and Moon Pies.  When I asked MJ what word he’d use to describe the experience, he said, “Something old fashioned . . . like ‘sublime.’”

Thanks to my brother-in-law David Kimball for the beautiful opening shot of the Great American Eclipse as seen from Ashton, Idaho on August 21, 2017.

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One Wish

As in Augusts past, I’m enjoying Susannah Conway’s “August Break” photo challenge.  Today’s prompt was “One Wish” and I woke up thinking that I have so much of what I once wished for, for which I’m very grateful.  But as for a personal wish to photograph today, I’d just have to keep my wishful eyes open.

I had a small act of service to complete before noon.  I’d volunteered to buy and deliver groceries to a summer camp for refugee children near Lake Merritt. I loaded up the requested bags of fruit and pasta makings and headed for downtown Oakland.  I hadn’t been to that particular location for years–not since my own children were young and taking boating lessons.  There was some lag time between my arrival and the refugee children and so I watched other children take off in sailboats, kayaks and paddleboats.

They looked like they were having so much fun doing boating activities that I don’t really know how to do. (I grew up waterskiing in Idaho, but that’s about it.) I wished that I knew how to paddle about in a kayak or maneuver a sail to get where I wanted to go. And then I thought that I could still take lessons to do either.  But almost immediately realized that I didn’t really want to LEARN how to do those things.  I just wish I KNEW how to do them.

Perhaps the children I provided lunch for today feel the same.  When I met up with them they asked me where I live? (Oakland, but before that a potato farm in Idaho.) Did I speak another language? (A wee bit of German, badly.) And had I seen any animals that day? (The geese nearby and the deer in my front yard.) The camp director was anxious to continue with their schedule and so there was no time to ask them where they came from, what languages they spoke and what animals had they seen that day (and were they different than animals they would have seen in their home countries?)

They seemed engaged and excited to be gathered by a manmade lake in the middle of downtown Oakland on a foggy August morning. But I wondered if they, too, sometimes wished they KNEW it all without having to learn everything anew.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful August.


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Melting Pot Independence Day Menu

Independence Day demands a barbecue, don’t you think?  A few weeks ago I saw a recipe for barbecued ribs smoked in a spicy sauce featuring the Korean red chili paste “gochujang.”  Gochujang is certainly popular right now—seems like it’s a weekly ingredient in our Blue Apron kits—but we’ve used it a lot over the years because MJ was a Mormon missionary way back when in Korea.  Any chance to use gochujang makes MJ happy and since we also celebrate our anniversary this week I decided to build a simple 4th of July barbecue around the ribs.

The menu fulfills some basic categories  while incorporating flavors from around the world. Along with the Korean ribs, it includes potato salad with a German twist, Persian melons, All-American corn-on-the-cob and red, white & blue Italian tiramisu.  Or, for those who like chocolate, a globally appealing chocolate cake.

Here are the links to the recipes along with some thoughts about each.

Gochujang Ribs with Scallions and Peanuts  It took the better part of the afternoon to smoke these ribs, but my, were they tasty.  Having to stoke the fire through the afternoon added a “slow food” comfort element to the day—the equivalent of having a stew bubbling on the stove in the winter–even if MJ did come to the table smelling like a lumberjack.  I especially liked the crunch of the peanuts and scallions.

Barefoot Contessa Potato Salad  Though this uses a mayonnaise-based dressing for the potato salad, the addition of two types of mustard and dill gave it the flavors of a traditional German potato salad.  I like this flavor profile but preferred the mayonnaise verses the usual oil-based dressing for a German potato salad as a counterpoint to the spicy ribs.  Made with new potatoes from our Full Belly CSA box, it was dynamite.

Mixed Berry Tiramisu  I’m not a big fan of traditional coffee-flavored tiramisu—especially for a mid-summer meal.  This mixed berry version is both lighter and fits the Independence Day theme.  Note that though there’s nothing difficult about the recipe it does take some time to assemble.  However, it’s definitely better after sitting for awhile so you can make it the day before.

Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting  I know, I know. I just said I don’t like coffee flavored desserts in the summer (with the exception of  Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, which is delicious all year round) but the bit of espresso powder and Kahlua added to this chocolate cake recipe does enhance the chocolate flavor.  Watch the cake closely at the end, however.  It’s easy to overbake and then it’s a little dry. Which can, of course, be remedied with vanilla (or Jamaica Almond Fudge) ice cream.

Happy 4th, Everyone!


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Where I’ve Been

Goodness gracious, it seems like forever since I’ve posted.  Several readers have reached out to me wondering if things were all right in my world.  Just letting you know that indeed they are.  I’ve been traveling a lot, working on my book and best of all, welcoming a new grandchild.  I’ve shared much of this on Instagram but look forward to telling you more about my adventures here on the blog. Starting with photos and stories from my wonderful trip to England last month to tour (mostly) private English gardens.  Here I am in the back garden at the Manor at Upton Grey, a magnificent 19th century garden originally designed by famed British landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll and lovingly restored by the current owner, Rose Wallinger.  I hope you’re spending some restorative time in the garden this holiday weekend. More soon!

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Friday Things Considered: The Daffodils Edition

This weekend I’ll be celebrating Easter with family and friends.  We should have a break in the rain which means there will be a chance to point out the pink dogwood and white wisteria in bloom.  Alas, the five hundred daffodils we planted in December are almost gone.  I’m sorry they won’t be here to trumpet the triumph of spring.  But they’ll be back I’m told.  That’s the beauty of daffodils.

Also, deer don’t like them.  They don’t appeal to gophers.  And the foxes and wild turkeys seem to leave them alone as well. Which means they’re perfect for our garden on the edge of open space.  We planted eleven different varieties of daffodils  (poets would call some jonquils, others paper whites or narcissus)–specifically Avalanche, Barrett Browning, Carlton, Cornish King, Ice Follies, Las Vegas, Ma Bell, Merels Favourite, Pink Charm, Pipet, and Thalia. They all had staggered bloom times.  But on those weeks where they were pretty much all in bloom, every time I opened the front door it felt like I was being serenaded with the Hallelujah Chorus.  (Did you know that Handel’s “Messiah” was originally performed in April?)

Daffodils belong to the genus narcissus which gets its name from the Greek god Narcissus.  According to legend, Narcissus was so taken with the image of himself as he gazed into a river that he drowned trying to capture his reflection.  The reflected image of daffodils growing along stream banks inspired the association with Narcissus.

We planted them along the dry stream bed in our garden where except for a few exceptionally rainy days no treacherous reflections are cast.  We planted them on a sunny day in December when my family had just started to gather for Christmas.  Though the sun was out it was still cold and it took some gumption to get out there and plant All Those Bulbs (we put 100 tulip bulbs in the back pots safely out of reach from the deer as well.) But once we got started the work was pretty easy and fun.  And boy was there a big payoff.  I’m thinking this will be an annual Christmas tradition.  Some daffodils will return but to ensure we always have plenty I’ll want to plant more.

Here you can see our daughter Claire planting daffodils  (now that they’ve bloomed, I’m thinking the elegant white on white Thalia?) near the leafless variegated dogwood draped with Christmas garland.

And here’s the rest of the planting crew — our pregnant daughter-in-law Lori, Claire, landscaper Keeyla Meadows, son Will and M.J. Right after we planted the bulbs we scurried off to a matinee performance of The Christmas Revels that happened to feature a daffodil as a magical symbol of healing and rebirth!

It’s an act of faith to plant anything but especially homely little bulbs in the dead of winter.  But look what our faith hath wrought!

Predominantly white daffodils surround the dry creek above.  Here’s another shot with Lori–by March her pregnancy was very much in bloom!
Yellow on yellow daffodils like Las Vegas and Carlton are clustered near other yellow foliage on the dry creek side of the driveway.
On the other side of the driveway, Pink Charm daffodils fill in the side garden (and some of the painted pots in the back, see above)  which tends to have pink and red blooming flowers during the summer. A signal of what’s to come.
Some of the first to bloom were the orange centered Barrett Browning daffodils near the open space. Named after poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, these were some of my favorites.
Delicate little Pipets bloomed later in the pots by the front door.  Their color coordinated nicely with the new green foliage on the potted maples.
For more on the history and meaning of daffodils check here and here.  Here’s hoping your Passover and Easter week has been filled with spring blooms that delight and renew.

Happy Weekend All!

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Design at the Movies – Chaise Lounge Awards 2017

The Academy Awards happen this weekend and so it’s time once again to celebrate my favorite design elements in last year’s movies.  Of those films nominated for Best Production Design I’m pulling for Hail Caesar! and its giddy rendition of ‘50s LA.  But I suspect the Technicolor toss-up will go to La La Land.

If I were handing out awards, here are a few things I am Loving about last year’s set designs.

Best (and Worst) Bachelor Pads – Dev Patel’s ocean view apartment provided a perfect perch to search the world to find his roots.  By contrast, Casey Affleck’s basement digs in Manchester by the Sea offered no relief from his past.

Best Hideout – The elegant Georgian mansions offered more than Love & Friendship to Kate Beckinsale.

Deadliest Kitchen –Despite all its up-to-date trappings there was no heart to Rosamund Pike’s Gone Girl home.

Hippy-est Hut – Viggo Mortensen’s forest dwelling in Captain Fantastic was a survivalist’s paradise.

Best Contemporary Castle – The Camelot-era White House was a shining spot in Jackie. 

Best Dreams Do Come True House – Emma Stone’s Chateau Marmont bungalow provides a clear signal that she’s made it big in La La Land.

Best Slipcover – Proving once again that money can’t buy you love, this nothing-out-of-the-ordinary chenille blanket provided the perfect backdrop for the happy marriage in Loving.

Best Music Room —The eclectic mishmash of Meryl Streep’s apartment hit all the right notes in Florence Foster Jenkins. 

And now, the Grand Chaise—the one with the leopard print velvet slipcover—is awarded to The Place I Wish I Called Home: 

All my finalists offer water front views from spare structures.  I fancied the quiet Japanese dwellings in Silence and the modern Commie clubhouse in Hail Caesar! But the place that spoke my design language best was Amy Adams’s down-to-earth lakeside retreat in Arrival.


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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Hope you’re spending it with people you love doing things you love. MJ has a teaching commitment tonight so I made Valentine cookies for him to share with his students and we frosted them together after enjoying a pre-Valentine’s dinner out.  Note that I spread the frosting to the edges.  He tried to leave a neat little border of unfrosted cookie.  Probably tells you something about each of us.  But even more telling is that we both frosted the cookies in our own preferred way and didn’t care a bit if the other frosted their cookies differently.  That’s a good thing about having been married for thirty-seven years.  We can see each others’ differences and (mostly) not let them totally bug us!

If you’re busy frosting cookies or doing something else that is amenable to podcast listening you might enjoy Krista Tippett’s interview with philosopher and writer Alain de Botton about love and relationships. This is on the heels of him having written the most downloaded essay in the New York Time’s last year about Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.  Grateful I ended up with the person who’s wrong for me in all the right ways.

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Kitty Cat Hats

Perhaps some of you are participating in the Women’s Marches being held around the country this weekend.  If so, you might be wondering just what to wear.  Many women will be sporting pink knit hats, otherwise known as “pussy hats.”  I’m blushing a little just writing that out–which may be why it took me so long to track down the pattern and get started on a hat for myself.

I’d seen a few women in my circles posting photos of the hats and yesterday with a holiday in front of me I decided to knit one for myself to wear in Oakland this weekend. And maybe for my two daughters who will be marching down much colder streets in Boston and Manhattan.  I looked up a few patterns both at the official Pussy Hat Project site and on the knitting site Ravelry and called around to see what yarn shops in my area were open.

Turned out the closest ones were pretty much sold out of pink worsted or bulky weight (thicker, therefore faster to knit) yarn.  But a yarn shop in a further out suburb said they had plenty so I drove out to find this table filled with beautiful yarns in shades of fuschia, rose, watermelon, strawberry, blush and  burgundy.  A half-dozen women were fingering the wool and cotton skeins as they shopped for materials to make their own Pussy Hats and happily chatted about where they would be marching.   Made me look forward to spending time with the other women (and men) at the march on Saturday.

I sent some images to my daughters who said they preferred a solid dark pink worsted weight yarn as did a young activist knitter friend I was shopping for. Fortunately, the store had just restocked this particular wool/mohair blend. I selected a subtly variegated yarn magenta bulky-weight hand-dyed wool for myself, figuring if I really plow through two hats early in the week I’ll need an especially fast-knit yarn to have mine ready in time. By the end of the day I had completed the simple rectangle necessary to make the hat.  Thinking some of you marching knitters out there might want to create one too, here are a few notes to help you along the way.

I’m an experienced, if infrequent, knitter but the pattern really is simple enough for a beginner.  It’s basically a seventeen inch rectangle with four inches of ribbing on each end that is then stitched together.  When worn the middle of the top collapses and the pointy ends look like kitty cat ears.  I knit the worsted weight on a size 8 needle and it took about an hour to do the first four inches of ribbing, another two+ to knit the stockingnette portion of the hat, and a fourth hour to knit the last four inches of ribbing on the other side and sew up the hat.  So, give or take, a four hour project.

It was pleasant to work on as the sun went down in the living room while listening to a podcast–Patty Smith talking with Alec Baldwin on “Here’s The Thing”–and then later watching the sobering documentary “13th” for MLK Day.  It would be even more pleasant to do it over the course of a few days so start now if you can.  Happy Protest Knitting!

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.